Walk With Dorothy [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I am fond of falling into rabbit holes. For instance, I just wrote the phrase, “racking my brain” and then doubted my spelling and wrote, “wracking my brain.” Was I wracking my brain or racking my brain as I tried to figure out who Lily Tomlin reminded me of? We’ve been binge watching episodes of Grace & Frankie.

This is what the oracle in the temple of google revealed to me: To rack one’s brain is to torture it or to stretch it by thinking very hard. To wrack one’s brain would be to wreck it. This might sort of make sense in some figurative uses, but rack is the standard spelling where the phrase means to think very hard.

After sufficiently stretching my brain on the rack, somewhere in the early episodes of season 2, I realized that Lily Tomlin’s character reminded me of my great aunt Dorothy. Not so much in specific action – but in orientation to life and in appearance. I admired her greatly.

Dorothy lived on the side of a mountain in a small house that may or may not have ever been level. It was a down hill stroll when walking from the kitchen to the living area. She cooked on a cast iron wood burning stove. Her tiny yard, also clinging to the side of the mountain, was a miracle of blue bottles glittering in the sun and brilliant red hummingbird feeders. Poncho, a dog older than god herself, sat in the yard and watched the day go by. My great uncle Del rolled cigarettes and kept his world war 2 army jeep in usable shape.

Dorothy and Del were more interested in living life simply rather than gathering possessions or stacking achievements. The promise of a week with them was a promise of adventure. Catching pollywogs in old coffee cans, building rafts so we could Huck Finn our way across high mountain lakes, bumping in the jeep over ancient gold mining trails, discovering cabins and shelters slowly being reclaimed by the land. There were old graveyards and the hillside that the mountain town considered its dump. Dorothy was famous (to me) for finding treasure there. She had the eyes to see possibilities and potential in the community’s discards.

I often wonder if my love of walking was a gift from Dorothy. I adored walking with her. She was, at the same time, a free spirit and completely grounded. She was dedicated to the appreciation of the moment. No frills. No illusions. The sun on her face was cause for celebration. She never traded simple present joy for some imagined future gain.

When I think of her, I smile. When I think of the many people who have influenced me, Quinn and Tom, Doug, MM, Mark, Judy…they all have a bit of Dorothy in their characters. Outliers. See-ers. Lots of laughter and ideas. The ability to find treasure – or make treasure – in the people and the possessions that society routinely throws away. Appreciators of the moment. Sharers of the riches they find there. Walkers-through-life that pay attention. Each and every one evokes a smile when they wander through my thoughts.

Ask me what makes a good life, what it is I hope to emulate, and leave behind, I will not need to rack or wrack my brain. I will point you to the long river of inspiration and smiles whose headwaters come from a tiny scrappy woman who lived in a tippy house on the side of a mountain surrounded by hummingbirds, colored glass, bacon and wood smoke.

read Kerri’s blog post about SMILE

See The Riches [on KS Friday]

My mom tells me that my dad is becoming a little bird. His body shrinks as dementia takes his mind. He is continually packing for a trip, his clothes wrapped in tight balls or stuffed in odd places. He waits at the door.

Listen to Kerri’s Fistful Of Dandelions. It tells the story of a life cycle. A mother and her small child. The child grows. The roles reverse. The son becomes the giver of care. It is nature’s cycle and, with each passing phase of the cycle, comes the appreciation of the true riches in this transient life: moments together. Holding hands. Picking dandelions. Titanic love. “…all the riches I will need today…” Simple presence chocked full of simple appreciation.

I interviewed for a job last week. The questions they asked were questions designed for a younger person, someone at the beginning of their career. I laughed and replied that their question had nothing to do with me. I no longer climb the achievement ladder. I am at the other end, the son holding tender space for the shrinking bird.

The illusions drop away as the sand runs out. The wall of respect might hold plaques and certificates but they grow more empty over time. Paper in a frame. The car in the garage never really provided the status it promised.

What remains is the real stuff. Holding hands. A fistful of dandelions. Shared time. Beer-thirty on the back porch. A pocket full of memories. Warm days fishing together at the lake. Listening to records deep into the night. Packing boxes and helping with the move. Making sure this tiny bird is safe as he waits with his bundle at the door. Just as he did for me.

all of Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about FISTFUL OF DANDELIONS

fistful of dandelions ©️ 1999 kerri sherwood

Dance In Timelessness [on DR Thursday]

“We cannot struggle to be present. We can only discover that we are present.” ~ Declan Donnellan

The struggle to reach across the divide and grasp hands with the one that you love. It is a universal story. Yearning requires an obstacle to ignite the story.

I painted this for Kerri when we were attempting to bridge the divide. I lived in Washington. She lived in Wisconsin. During a visit, sitting in Adirondack chairs in her front yard, sipping wine and listening to music, we discovered that we were present. We danced in timelessness.

Obstacles become surmountable when love is on the other side of the abyss. We moved mountains and then dealt with the consequences.

It’s a rule that an artist should never tell an audience what a painting means, should never rob a viewer of their response, interpretation, and story of a painting. Sometimes it’s alright to break a rule. I painted this painting for Kerri. It’s about reaching for love across the divide, discovering the present, and the promise of dancing our way through the obstacles.

read Kerri’s blog post about DANCING IN THE FRONT YARD

dancing in the front yard ©️ 2013 david robinson

Walk In Sync [on Merely A Thought Monday]

My Seattle studio was on the 4th floor. It was a corner space so I had windows on two sides. On one side, across the railroad tracks, were the stadiums. Out of the other set of windows I could see the streets that bordered the International district. People scurrying to and fro.

Many afternoons, working on a painting, I’d hear the roar of the crowds, touchdowns or home runs. The light rail pulling into the station. The Amtrak train pulling out of the station heading north. Sirens, car horns honking. I loved my studio because, although I was surrounded by the hustle and bustle of city life, I felt somehow removed from it, a witness.

Sometimes, when I was too much in my head or I could no longer ‘see’ my painting, I’d walk the streets. I’d wander to clear my mind or refresh my vision. I’d walk slowly, people rushing, rushing by. People trying to get somewhere. Trying-to-get-out-of-a-too-active-mind requires a much different pace than trying-to-get-somewhere. They are opposite actions. In my slow walk I’d feel the wind of impatience as people dodged around me. I was an irritant. I was a slow moving rock in a rushing river of humanity.

The wind of impatience.

I’ve always understood the artist’s role to be a witness, to live on the edges looking in. Master Marsh recently sent Wendell Castle’s “My 10 Adopted Rules of Thumb.” Rule # 2 is “It’s difficult to see the whole picture when you are inside the frame.” An artist’s job is to sit on the frame, to see and share what those inside the frame cannot see. Pattern. Movement. Illusion.

One of the first things I noted the day I met Kerri is that we had exactly the same stride. We were walking and our steps were weirdly identical. We strolled in sync. It made us laugh.

There is a special place in Aspen, Colorado. The John Denver Sanctuary. We make a pilgrimage to the Sanctuary when we travel to visit Kirsten. It is a place designed to make people slow down. Babbling brooks. Aspen leaves. Monolithic stones carved with the lyrics of John Denver’s songs, stones that carry the words of writers and artists and thinkers who appeal to the heart. It asks the visitor to sit for a spell. To listen. To breathe and see. To be, as nature teaches, no where other than here. It offers the gift of the artist: to fill-up with quiet before jumping back into the life-of-hurry-up-and-get-it-done. To remember what is natural and walk with exactly the same stride as nature.

read Kerri’s blog post about PATIENCE

Stroll The Esoteric Garden [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Lately, I am strolling the esoteric gardens and have picked for you these wild blossoms.

First, my favorite quotes of the week:

  1. “Life is mysterious and transcends logic, so the living thing can never be fully analysed, taught or learned…The doctor may explain why the patient is dead, but never why the patient is alive.” [Declan Donnellan].

2. “Samuel Beckett is a wonderful writer who has meditated deeply on the mystery of death…All of Beckett’s works, especially Waiting For Godot, are about death. In other words, because death exists, time is radically relativized. All we do here is invent games to pass the time.” [John O’Donohue]

DogDog and BabyCat are food-driven. The levels of excitement in our house escalate when the food bowls are filled. DogDog performs his vertical-jump-and-counter-clockwise-spin dance. BabyCat uncorks an excited verbal symphony that sounds a lot like “now, now, now, now, now…” The anticipation of the bowl, it seems, is far more satisfying than eating of the food from the bowl. The anticipation lasts longer and I am certain that, in the gobbling, neither DogDog or BabyCat actually taste their food.

3. “After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.” ~ Mr. Spock. I laughed the first time I heard this in an episode of Star Trek. Capitalism reduced to a simple, single phrase. The economics of desire, wanting and having en route to wanting.

I have crossed paths with many a seeker. Mostly, they talk of presence or mindfulness or being as a noun. A thing to achieve or possess or gobble. Food in a bowl. The anticipation of unity in a path devoted to separation, thus, we are seekers. The Buddhist’s remedy to the dedication of separation is to chop wood and carry water. In other words, being is a verb.

With the notable exception of how-to-go-on-a-walk-without-pulling-our arms-out-of-the-socket, using the promise of a treat, Kerri can teach DogDog anything. There is no end to the tricks he will perform, the indignities he will suffer, en route to a treat. He sneezes on cue. He counts, high-fives, sits, jumps up, jumps down, wears paper plates on his head…his little Aussie body quakes with excitement, his eyes firmly locked on the promised treat.

We wrinkle our brows daily and ask, “How can they possibly believe that?” Horatio would respond, “It’s game theory. What are the incentives, the promised pay off?” Anticipation. Treat. We might as well ask, “How did hate, division and lie become food in the human bowl?’ There is no end to the tricks people will perform, the lies they will embrace, the funny hats they will wear, the indignities they will suffer or inflict, eyes firmly locked on a promised treat. Superiority. Or mattering?

I have crossed paths with many a power player. Mostly, they talk of winning, and owning, and being-on-the-top. There is never enough food for the bowl. The anticipation of achieving abundance through eyes that only perceive a pie with limited pieces. Owning this piece and then the next and the next and the next…

“Life is mysterious and transcends logic.”

Yearning meets obstacle.* The strange alchemy necessary to invent a story.

Dogs and cats living together, oh my!

“All we do here is invent games to pass the time.” I wonder, as I wander through my esoteric garden, what might it take for us to invent more inclusive, life-giving games, a more generous story?

*this definition of story courtesy of Robert Olen Butler

read Kerri’s less esoteric blog post on ANTICIPATION

Listen To The Lake [on KS Friday]

The sun poured in the window this morning. We sat in it. No, we basked in it, ate breakfast, sipped coffee. Simple pleasures. Endless appreciation. We reminisced about our childhood homes. Kerri recalled the layout of the den. I described the kitchen in my growing-up house. We remembered cooking smells and Formica table tops.

Our story zones expanded to include the many chapters of our lives. Multiple eras. Times that seemed as if they would never end. Times that passed too quickly. We imagined a day when we would reminisce about these times, pandemic times, both the hardships and the appreciations. For instance, in our isolation, we’ve created an end-of-the-work-day-ritual called ‘snack time.’ A glass of wine, french fries hot from the oven or a pear and cheese. Olives. We sit at the table we placed by the window, watch the day wane, and savor. I suspect snack time, borne of the pandemic, will be with us for the rest of our lives.

When in my old age I tell the story of the pandemic times, when the hardships fade in importance (as they always do), I will tell the tale of life slowed down. I will remember how limits made movement less frenetic and much more mindful. Rather than doing more, we pared down. We did less and experienced more. We placed increased importance on the simple things. In fact, we placed importance on the important things. Connecting with friends and family, not out of obligation or unconscious pattern, but out of necessity and intention.

I will talk about our walks, already central to our daily happiness, how they took on a wholly new significance. Getting out and walking became an exercise in paying attention, in absolute appreciation of the simple miracles. Affirmations of life. The magic appearance of the robins on a frigid day. The sunset bringing fire to the ice in the harbor.

I will tell the story of the day we were stopped in our tracks by the song of the ice on the lake. It sounded like whale song. I will tell the story of standing still in blistering cold, listening in utter amazement until ours eyes watered and our fingertips burned, until we looked at each other and in unison said, “Snack time!”

read Kerri’s blog post about LAKE SONG

Snap [on KS Friday]

“Whenever the question comes up,/ the poets all say the same thing:/ the only poem we are interested in is in the next room,/ the one not written, the poem of tomorrow.” ~ Billy Collins, The Next Poem

I am trying not to focus on the next. The next chapter. The next day. This is a day of my life even if it is unfolding in a time of pandemic, of jobs lost, careers collapsed, broken-wrists-not-healing and my father’s slow disappearance.

Yesterday was hard. I made it so. Even before noon I was wishing the day away. I was anxious to get to the next. To stick a fork in it. Then, when the truck wouldn’t start, it was all too much. I could have shaken my fist at the sky but instead I decided to stop trying to be someplace else. I decided to feel the hurt. Be in the day.

I miss my studio. That’s not quite right. I miss myself in my studio. I miss how I feel when I am working in it. Timeless. In that place, there is no next. In that place, I feel good, all things become possible. It is a staircase away. These days, it might as well be on the moon.

Mary Oliver wrote, “Next time what I’d do is look at/ the earth before saying anything.” This seems to me, as I approach a birthday, an age marker, a sunrise unlike any other, to be sage advice. See the miracle before I diminish it with my thinking, before I jam it into sackcloth with my opinions.

Once, on a bitter cold day, feeling blue, I leaned back against a red brick wall and closed my eyes. I felt the sun warm my bones and, in a snap, wanted to be no where else on earth. Try as you might, you cannot take that from me, the sun. The warmth against that wall. The absence of next. The boundless power of the snap.

read Kerri’s blog post about NEXT

Pay Attention [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I read this morning in my brainpickings, “We have to try and cure our faults by attention and not by will.” Simone Weil.

Kerri and I walk almost everyday. We head for our known, usual trails, and only occasionally go in search of something new. Even though we walk a well-known path, it never fails to seem entirely new. Kerri attends to the details, taking photographs of unusual pine cones, a downy feather on a limb, the sun streaming through the trees. She pays attention. My awareness is more global, the movement of forest, the orchestra and dance of trees and wind. I pay attention.

Our walks bring us perspective when all else seems dark and disorderly. Our walks refill our well of hope when our circumstance seems bleak. Mostly, our walks “cure our faults,” they bring us into a present moment where all of life’s judgments and fears fall away as the illusions that they are. Our walks, if only for a few hours, wipe clean our canvas and return us to a childlike curiosity.

Sometimes, after a snowfall, we arrive at our trail and it is untouched. It never fails that we stand at the trailhead and marvel at the unblemished snow. Sometimes we hold hands and jump in with both feet and laugh. Sometimes we step carefully, quietly. Reverently. Either way, it seems a special gift. First steps are to be noted. Last steps are to be noted.

This morning I read an article about How Aging Shapes Narrative Identity. How the story-we-tell-ourselves-about-ourselves changes as we age. Our investments change. We become less interested in pursuits and achievements, in willful purpose. We become more interested in appreciation of our precious, limited moments. And, so, we begin to tell a different story. New snow on an old path.

The article was timely. Kerri and I lay awake most of the night. Among other things we pondered my dad’s dementia, the stories that he weaves and realities he inhabits. He is obsessed with going home.

Deep in the night, we talked about the stories that we currently weave together as we grow older. It seems that this time in our lives is a blank canvas, a path of new and untouched snow. Standing at the trailhead of our next chapter, no steps to follow or map, neither of us has any desire to reinvent or become different than what we are. Certainly, the circumstances of our lives are changing, but more and more we merely want to pay attention. To hold hands and jump into the unbroken snow. To laugh. To note the downy feather in the tree. The wind song, the deer that surprise us, leaping through tall grasses. “Did you see them?” I whisper. Kerri nods and smiles. Reverence. Nothing in the world, at that moment, is more important.

read Kerri’s blog post about UNBROKEN SNOW

Emerge Changed [on KS Friday]

This moment “is the place of pilgrimage to which I am a pilgrim.” Paul Murray

Columbus’ journey into dementia has reminded me once again that time is not a linear thing. We cycle as surely as the tides, the seasons, the days that move into night and back again. Each and every moment a pilgrimage, as poet Paul Murray writes, in which we are both pilgrim and the target of our pilgrimage. We journey to discover ourselves. As Columbus moves deeper into his world, I know the separation, the distance from him that I experience is necessary. He must walk alone into this season of his pilgrimage.

Walking the snowy trail a few days ago I asked Kerri about the experience of losing her father, I asked if it necessitated a life review. She told me that, when she thinks of her dad, she is filled with the impression of who he was; she rarely thinks or even remembers events. She viscerally feels his love. She knows his spirit. “I never think about his achievements or how much money he made – all the stuff we get lost in,” she said, “but I fully remember who he was.”

We are in transition. All jobs lost. Broken wrists challenging artistry as it was. Every day it begs us to consider who we are within our circumstance. Who are we if we are no longer that? “Our spirits are high. We take one day at a time,” I just wrote in a letter. It’s true. That is who we are. That, at this present moment, is all we are. Pilgrims walking.

I am, like my dad, in a “winter” in the cycle of time. He pulls in. I am also pulling in. To rest. To reflect. To rejuvenate. Pilgrim and pilgrimage, both. Each moment an unbroken circle. Each moment in transition. The old shell is too small. Someday, it will of necessity split. Columbus will emerge changed into his new world. I will emerge changed into mine.

in transition/released from the heart is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about IN TRANSITION

in transition/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

Take The Opportunity [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Paul used to teach his actors that, in choosing to step onto a stage, they had a profound responsibility. “Never underestimate your power to influence another person’s life,” he’d say. I took his lesson and passed it along to my students. I hope that a few of my students took Paul’s lesson and, in turn, passed it on. You have a responsibility.

Another lesson I learned, this time from Jim, was that great acting is about standing in truth. “Acting is the honest pursuit of an intention in imaginary circumstances.” Honest pursuit. It’s a misunderstanding to equate the art of acting with pretending. The circumstances are pretend. Actors are meant to be portals to a shared story, a channel to a common experience. They transport. They transform. “Never underestimate your power…”

John O’Donohue writes that the soul does not inhabit a body. It’s the other way around: bodies live within the soul. We only think we are isolated individuals, bubbles. The bubble is singular, soul, and we play our small dramas within it. We fill our bubble by how we stand in it, by what we bring into it. There is no on-stage or off. It’s all the stage.

The other day I was exhausted. I was standing on the edge of despair when my phone dinged. It was Rob. “What kind of wine do you like?” he texted. The edge disappeared.

From across the country, MM sends me cartoons that make me smile. Horatio sent an episode of The Twilight Zone. “You gotta watch this,” he said. David sends photos of Dawson at the easel. There is nothing so freeing to an aging artist than to watch a child draw. No limits.

The bubble is singular. The soul of the earth. These good friends, living honestly on the stage, have no idea of their profound impact and influence on me.

These days, when I think of my good teachers and dedicated mentors, when I think of Jim and Tom McK and Paul, I know that, were I to teach again, I would add a small caveat to our legacy-lesson. I’d say, “In choosing to step onto the stage, you have a profound responsibility and opportunity: never underestimate your power to influence another person’s life.”

Take the opportunity. Each and every moment. Ripples sending ripples.

read Kerri’s blog post about SOUL OF THE EARTH